New Aviano evidence
Earlier this year, Protect Our Defenders exposed an egregious case that underscores the clear need to move prosecution and adjudication of sexual assault in the military outside of the chain of command.
After a jury of Air Force Colonels convicted Lt. Col. James Wilkerson of sexual assault, his base commander, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, simply overturned the conviction of the assailant -- against the advice of his staff Judge Advocate General and with no valid rational basis.
This astonishing move was widely criticized by a bi-partisan group of Members of Congress. POD immediately sprang into action and called on AF Sec. Michael Donley to remove Franklin from his leadership position. Furthermore, we called for Wilkerson to be investigated for other widely reported bad behavior.
Now, the Air Force has released startling new evidence of the bias that led to this injustice: emails from Lt. Gen. Franklin and other senior officers provide a window into his decision and his effort to get the assailant promoted and back to flying again. With our help, the victim was able to obtain these emails through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), after months of Air Force stonewalling.
These emails make crystal clear why we need an independent military justice system, outside the chain of command.
In one email, Franklin’s commander, General Philip Breedlove, expressed full support for overturning the guilty conviction despite what he called “possible blow back.” Breedlove's comments prove that moving authority to handle sexual assault cases farther up the chain does not lead to a fair judicial process, but ensures more of the same.
In another email, the commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano warned Franklin of dire consequences from overturning the conviction: "That would be absolutely devastating...[it would be] a huge negative impact on morale and send a very negative message about how seriously we take sexual assault in the AF and potentially call into question the effectiveness of our UCMJ system in general."
But Franklin ignored the plea. Instead, with Breedlove’s backing, Franklin intervened to protect a fellow pilot with a history of misconduct -- completely disregarding the need for justice for the victim, the morale of the entire base, and the integrity of the military justice system.
Publicly, military leadership state that they have "Zero Tolerance" for sexual assault -- but their communications prove the opposite. These emails send a chilling reminder to victims of sexual assault that military leadership will go to extreme lengths to protect their own.
Since first learning of the egregious injustice of this case from the victim, we have led the charge in demanding that Air Force leaders be held accountable.
Thank you again to those who have already signed our petition demanding that Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel dismiss both Wilkerson and Franklin from the Air Force. You can help us continue our efforts by inviting your friends to sign on as well.
If you haven't signed on yet, please help us in this effort to hold to hold leaders, like Franklin, who cover up and condone these crimes and those who commit the crimes, like Wilkerson, accountable.
Until our military justice system is fundamentally reformed to remove the power of commanders to overturn a sentence, or to shut down an investigation before it ever gets to trial, victims of rape and sexual assault will continue to see justice denied.
Thanks for your support.